A conversation with Eva Van der Gucht from Evin

If you live in Ghent, or are a regular visitor of the city, you might’ve heard of Evin: a cosy and accessible wine bar, right around the corner of the Gravensteen castle. Hell, you might’ve even heard of Eva Van der Guchts place even if you’ve never been to the ‘Arteveldestad’! The previously mentioned lady made it in the papers by her remarkable adaption as a response to the Corona crisis: quality wine, delivered to your doorstep, by bike. As fans of everything quirky, and even more so of everything original and entrepreneurial, we just had to have a chat and figure out how it all came about. Also, we love wine.

How do you experience the corona crisis on a professional level?

“First and foremost as an unexpected situation, a challenge. A year ago I never thought this would be the reality now, but that goes for a lot of people, of course.

The crisis is also providing a lot of extra pressure. In any case, entrepreneurship entails freedom, but also many responsibilities. I feel those responsibilities now more than ever.”

Did you see it from a far – the lockdown etc – or did the measures surprise you?

“Since the coronavirus often appeared in the media, I realised that it would most likely also lead to a lockdown in Belgium. In some way, I expected to have some more time to prepare, because suddenly the decision was made on Thursday 12/03: catering should close as from 10 pm tomorrow. That has caught us all a bit fast, both on a personal level as professionally.”

How are your customers reacting?

“Many customers were full of disbelief the first days of the closure. On Wednesday 11/03, I realised that it was going to be really serious and that decisions and urgent measures would be made and taken quickly. For example, an engagement party was planned in Evín on Saturday 14/03, but I already informed those people on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be possible. They responded very understandingly, but also hoped that they could carry on the following week.

Many customers also immediately made reservations for the first week of April, while I was very doubtful whether everything would be “back to normal” again. On 15/03 the webshop went online, and since then many customers have responded enthusiastically and gratefully. I feel that people really want to buy locally and support small entrepreneurs. I also feel very strongly that in these times people are more than ever in need of those small indulgences and guilty pleasures that can still enjoy inside, “in their room”. Order tasty food, have a brunch delivered, or drink a glass of wine. I am happy to meet that need by delivering wine packages at home.”

A little further in the funnel: winegrowers will not immediately see guest workers / pickers return. Do you think there will be a problem with this year’s production?

“Yes, I think it will be a strange year in all areas. In any case, this crisis will have consequences for production this year and next year. Many wine countries are heavily affected, just think of Italy, France and Spain. Health is now paramount, making production and exports less of a priority anyway. Financially, the crisis will be a huge blow to many producers. I can only hope they can overcome it in the coming years. I personally know two winegrowers, one in Italy and one in France, of which one or more family members have died from the virus. That pauses your whole life. They will need time to process everything, to move on. We will all need it, by the way, whether you are  personally affected or not.”

Are there things that you’re trying out that wouldn’t be discussed otherwise? For example, the home deliveries?

“Indeed, launching the webshop quickly and linking it to home deliveries were somewhere in the back of my mind. An immediate answer to the mandatory closure of the wine bar. Normally I wouldn’t jump on my bike that fast to do that all day (laughs). And I also think that in normal circumstances there would be less of a demand for wine to be delivered at home, although I have certainly noticed a market for it.”

Any ideas that were already there that are suddenly gaining momentum?

“The idea of a webshop with shipping was on the table anyway, except, sending wine is rather expensive because of its weight. I found it a difficult trade-off for months, because I just want to remain a very affordable wine concept.

But on 14/03 I Skyped all afternoon with Mats, who made the website, and on 15/03 the webshop with home deliveries was online. The cheapest solution seemed to deliver everything myself, since I suddenly had too much time.”

Are there learnings you can share?

“I immediately found that a webshop is more time consuming than I thought. One of the most important things I found was to extend the personal approach of the bar to the webshop, so that people can ask questions, put together their wine package themselves, send a gift with a ticket, for example, and not simply order from an anonymous company.

In concrete terms, this concerns handling many emails and making yourself available – a lot. In addition, my respect for postmen and parcel services such as DPD and PostNL increased even more. Sometimes it is really a dog job, preparing all those packages, dividing them by region, people who do not open, difficult to find house numbers, doorbells that don’t work, … And especially a lesson that I have learned many times, but sometimes dare to forget: as an entrepreneur it is not bad to ask for help, to lean on someone, to not be good at something, and to disappoint a customer because the wine cannot be delivered within the hour.”

I just read a post by a renowned event agency that they are just tired of entrepreneurs complaining. They believe an entrepreneur hardly cares about the risk, thrives on challenges and wants to do business – effectively. They believe it’s crucial to take the reins and find solutions. This makes me think of your post very early in the crisis when home deliveries were made possible. In short: continue doing business. What is your opinion on businesses that just stand still? Stopping in front of the wall and not trying to jump over it – or crawl if necessary?

“A difficult question. First, I think: entrepreneurs are allowed to complain. These are unexpected, weird and often difficult times for everyone. It is not because you chose to set up your own business that you always have an answer ready for everything, we are also just people with perhaps (money) worries, with sometimes difficult home situations or with children or other family members who need us now more than ever, with panic attacks or a tightness in the chest because we all don’t know it will end or where it will go either. Uncertain times make doing business and making decisions more difficult and psychologically challenging.

I responded quickly, out of some sort of instinct, without thinking too long. That is in my nature, but therefore does’t make me “a good entrepreneur”. I jump and fall at least as often as people who first think before they jump ;-). I’ve cursed more than once that I didn’t just take some “vacation” back then, which was actually planned for the week of March 16. But at that time I mainly wanted to survive. Each case is also different, give people the space and time to adapt. But I’ll have to adapt I’m afraid because I do not believe that everything will return to normal on May 3rd. It’s going to be a strange year with a very strange summer. Adapting will become “key” for everyone.”

Are there any tips you can give? Some comforting words?

“I sometimes throw emotional posts on Instagram and Facebook, because I really believe that everything will be fine. It will take longer than we hoped or thought, and some things will change. But I do believe in the resilience of people in general and entrepreneurs in particular. 

I feel a lot of solidarity among entrepreneurs, and a lot of support from customers, friends, family, acquaintances, neighbours. Maybe we should try to hold on to that a bit harder, if we can go back to the cafe and have a dance.”

>> Stay in the loop. Check out Evin’s website here!